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Bolten: Loyalist, Lone Voice of Dissent—or Both?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On the morning of 9-11, it was White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card who whispered into the president’s ear the news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. As President Bush sat reading My Pet Goat to a Florida elementary classroom, Card told him, “America is under attack.”

That same morning in Washington, at around 10 o’clock, Joshua Bolten, then deputy chief of staff, sat with Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s wife, Lynne, and a group of political aides in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) located below the East Wing of the White House. When Dick Cheney gave the orders to shoot down commercial aircraft headed for Washington, only one person challenged his authority.

That person was Joshua Bolten, the person Bush has just announced will become his new of staff, replacing the veteran Card.

And in the unlikely event there is ever to be any serious investigation of what happened that morning, Bolten’s testimony would be crucial. With the rest of the government in a state of confusion as the 9-11 attacks unfolded, the real authority of government rested in the hands of the people in the PEOC. President Bush was jumping about the country on Air Force One, and in intermittent phone contact with Cheney.

The key question was whether to order the U.S. military to shoot down commercial planes full of passengers so the aircraft could not become suicide missiles aimed at the nation’s capital. The chain of command goes from the president to the secretary of defense and then on down to the various commanders. Under the 25th Amendment, the vice president does not have authority to issue such an order.

Nevertheless, Cheney did issue the orders. Cheney told the 9-11 Commission that just before 10 a.m. he called President Bush to say the Air Force was trying to set up combat air patrol over Washington and needed to have rules of engagement—i.e. the authority to shoot down planes that did not obey orders to change course. Cheney said the president signed off on that issue, and press accounts said the president remembered answering the notion with “You bet.”

The 9-11 Commission reported, “There is no documentary evidence for this call,” but tactfully went on to note that the “relevant sources are incomplete.” According to press accounts, some of the commission staff think the call never took place.

The only reported challenge to Cheney’s actions that day came from Joshua Bolten. According to the 9-11 report, Bolten “told the Commission that he watched the exchanges and, after what he called ‘a quiet moment,’ suggested that the Vice President get in touch with the President and confirm the engage order. Bolten told us he wanted to make sure the President was told that the Vice President had executed the order. He said he had not heard any prior discussion on the subject with the President.” Cheney then made this well documented call to the president, who concurred with Cheney’s decision.

Roundly described as a Bush loyalist, Bolten nonetheless struck several political observers as likely to bring a fresh viewpoint to the administration. Consider this from the Houston Chronicle:

“He will reach out to a broader range of people to hear their point of view,” said Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a Democrat who has worked with Bolten. “The worst way to serve the president is to narrow the range of advice he is exposed to.”

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Few Answers as Sago Mine Reopens

WASHINGTON, D.C.—It’s business as usual over in West Virginia, where the Sago mine reopened Wednesday.

The coal is pouring out in a steady stream. The TV networks are long gone. The signs urging prayers for the Sago miners have been taken down. Neighbors are still telling the few journalists who stop by stories about the 12 dead men who became the center of national attention when the mine explosion happened on January 2, trapping them inside, eventually killing all but one. The one man to live—Randal McCloy—is lying in a rehabilitation center with brain damage.

At a briefing earlier this week company officials continued to say the cause of the explosion was a lightning strike.

Executives of the International Coal Group, which owns the mine, say they just don’t know why they think the way they do. But on Tuesday the company handed out a P.R. release that said, “The explosion was ignited by lightning and fueled by methane that naturally accumulated in an abandoned area of the mine that had been recently sealed.” The company points to strange streaks across the mine roof, which might suggest passage of electricity across the ceiling. But the company adds, “The testing of these unusual features has not been completed to determine if it was created by the passage of electrical energy from lightning.” Through its P.R. firm, the company said it would not talk about the news release or the investigation.

There is one good explanation for not talking. If the ICG people can pin the blast on lightning, then the miners’ deaths may be seen as an act of God. In that case, the possibility of company liability in damage suits could be lessened.

The Sago mine is nonunion, and at rate the once powerful United Mine Workers is reduced to a shado of its former presence. Still, the UMW has been throwing in its two cents’ worth whenever it has a chance. On Wednesday, Cecil Roberts, the UMW president, attacked ICG in a press release: “ICG is essentially saying this was an act of God, and we all know you can’t sue God,” said Roberts. “One can make a case that this announcement is more about future litigation defense purposes than it is about actually shining a light of truth on what really happened.”

At the briefing, the company said lightning might have got into the mine through natural gas pipelines running on the surface above the mine. Or it might have traveled from a nearby power plant. “One of the mapped lightning strikes was 300 feet away from a power pole that supplied power to the mine, and it is possible that the electrical energy entered the mine through this mechanism, traveling perhaps along the conveyor belt structure,” the company said.

Investigators are dubious of this claim, since a lightning strike carried into the mine over an electric line would have knocked the line out.

So, not knowing what caused the explosion, or whether the mine remains vulnerable to that kind of accident, the mine owners started operations again as the federal and state safety officials stood by.

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Moussaoui’s Guilt: Less Profound Than Airline’s Own Incompetence?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Moussaoui trial controversy has almost nothing to do about the would-be hijacker’s guilt or innocence and everything to do with the airline industry covering up their negligence in handling airport security. The trial resumes today.

Carla Martin, a Transportation Security Administration attorney, coached aviation witnesses with court testimony in such a way as to bolster the government’s argument that, had they known about Zacarias Moussaoui’s Al Qaeda connections and the reasons for his flight training in August 2001, when federal agents first arrested and questioned him, then they would have taken precautions and launched investigations that might have averted the attack.

On finding out what Martin had done, Judge Leonie Brinkema halted the trial, reprimanded the lawyer, and reportedly considered throwing out the case. A hearing last week revealed Martin had shown scheduled witnesses testimony from the first day of the trial and coached them on how to answer questions. Federal rules of evidence bar witnesses from seeing trial testimony because they might change what they say after reading it.

Later in the week, the judge and prosecutors reached a compromise. The prosecutors proposed to bring on substitute witnesses and new documents that Martin had no connection with.

In fact, the airlines had long known their air security systems did not work but made scant effort to improve them. And, according to the 9-11 commission’s own staff study, prepared in August 2004 but not released until after the election in February 2005, the intelligence community had warned the FAA, which was supposed to pass the information on to the airlines, repeatedly to expect an attack before 9-11. These warnings appear to have had no discernible effect on the airlines.

“The FAA had indeed considered the possibility that terrorists would hijack a plane and use it as a weapon. In the spring of 2001, FAA intelligence distributed an unclassified CD-ROM presentation to air carriers and airports, including Logan, Newark, and Dulles, the three sources of the hijacked planes. The presentation cited the possibility that terrorists might conduct suicide hijackings but stated, “fortunately we have no indication that any group is currently thinking in that direction.” In the six months prior to 9-11, FAA senior officials received 52 intelligence briefings regarding Al Qaeda threats, according to the staff study.

The principal use of testimony by the aviation witnesses in the Moussaoui trial’s death phase doubtless is part of an effort to mitigate airline responsibility on 9-11 in pending suits by victim’s families.

Moussaoui, who pled guilty, is the only person tried in connection with the 9-11 attacks.

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Moussaoui’s Guilt: Less Profound Than the FBI’s Own Negligence?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—FBI Special Agent Harry Samit’s testimony yesterday at the Zacarias Moussaoui trial adds just one more piece of evidence to a growing list of incidents showing what Samit himself labeled “criminal negligence.”

Samit warned FBI headquarters on August 21, 2001, that Moussaoui wanted to hijack a plane “for the purpose of seizing control of the aircraft.” Shortly thereafter he learned from French intelligence that Moussaoui had been a recruiter for a Chechyna group with ties to Osama bin Laden.

Higher ups in the FBI blocked his efforts to get a search warrant, and edited out of his reports any reference to the French.

Samit’s testimony is but one of a growing list of incidents involving FBI’s failure to take action on information it had received warning of an attack, while at the same time deliberately downplaying the possibilities of an attack.

From the onset of his tenure, Attorney General John Ashcroft had at first received, but later rejected briefings on the Al Qaeda threat. Ashcroft killed an August 2001 plea for an additional $58 million to combat Al Qaeda. In May that year, Ashcroft put out a memo outlining strategic goals of the Justice Department. It made no mention of counterterrorism. Subsequently, in testimony before the 9-11 Commission, Ashcroft blamed the Clinton administration for terrorism failures and said he thought any attack would come from abroad.

According to press reports at the time, the Justice Department leaned on the 9-11 Commission to tone down sections of a staff report on Ashcroft, and the final commission report devoted little more than one page to Ashcroft. It makes no mention of the fact that Ashcroft had decided in the summer of 2001 to begin traveling exclusively by government jet, rather than on commercial airliners.

According to Bureau translators, agents learned in April that bin Laden was planning an attack involving hijacked airliners. Why this didn’t sound the alarm, nobody knows. The matter disappeared into the bureaucracy.

The role of the Bureau in muzzling Sibel Edmonds, the interpreter who tried to blow the whistle on the Bureau’s translation operations pertaining to 9-11, is well known. The FBI and Justice Department fought to prevent Edmonds from giving public testimony and so far the courts have backed them up.

The most startling occurrence involves the FBI’s inability to detect the presence of the two hijackers who flew into Los Angles in 2000, and lived openly in San Diego. They socialized around town and even rented an apartment from the FBI’s key informant in the Muslim community there. The informant either didn’t tell his handlers at the Bureau about the men or the Bureau didn’t act on his information. When the staff of the Congressional Joint Inquiry—the investigation that preceded formation of the 9-11 Commission—discovered what had happened in San Diego, the FBI tried to cover it up, refusing subpoenas to produce the informant for congressional testimony.

In its report, the Joint Inquiry said that five of the hijackers may have had contact with 14 people who had come to the FBI’s attention during terrorism investigations. Four of the 14 were the focus of Bureau investigations during the time the hijackers were in the U.S.

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Congress Sinks Port Deal

WASHINGTON, D.C.—By declaring today that it will give up its interests in U.S. ports, the United Arab Emirates may spare President Bush the immediate embarrassment of a political defeat at the hands of his own party in Congress. But it won’t take the spotlight off the U.A.E. royal family’s ties to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

Before the announcement about Dubai Ports World, Bush was sticking with his promise to veto any effort by Congress to stop the state-run firm from operating American ports.Yesterday, the House appropriations committee came down solidly against the ports deal, voting 62-2 to bar Dubai Ports world from operating several shipping facilities in the United States.

The White House acknowledged that congressional opposition might slow things down, but insisted the President Bush would veto measure blocking the deal. “Our focus is on continuing to work with Congress to move forward on this issue,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters. “The lines of communication are open. There are members who have concerns. We believe it’s important to work with Congress to address those concerns and find a way forward.”

There has been a landslide of opinion against letting the U.A.E. operate ports because of its royal family’s previous ties to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, whom various members have accompanied on hunting trips.

The opposition to the U.A.E. running U.S. ports grew so big it finally resulted in the little kingdom’s taking a modest swat at one of its prized residents, Viktor Bout, the world’s largest illegal arms dealer and a business partner with a U.A.E. prince. Bout supplied the Taliban with weapons and the Taliban in turn supplied al Qaeda.

Earlier this week, blogger Doug Farah wrote that after eight years of trying, the U.S. finally persuaded the U.A.E. to ground flights of Bout’s Irbis Air. It is unclear whether the grounding is permanent and whether it precludes Bout’s shifting ownership to another of his airlines operating from the Emirates.

Farah is a former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post who currently is an investigative consultant with the NEFA Foundation, a non-profit anti-terrorist group that is inquiring into the causes of 9-11.

For years the U.N. has been trying to get the U.A.E. to stop letting Bout operate there. He runs 30 different companies in the U.A.E. Despite sanctions by the U.N. and the U.S. Treasury, Bout has been flying planes in and out of the U.A.E. for years—carrying guns for rogue states and outlaws operating under contract to clients that include the U.S. military. The U.A.E., one of three countries to recognize the Taliban government, has made no move to stop him. The U.S. has repeatedly badgered the royal family to stop Bout, all to no avail, until earlier this week.

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Mine Safety: Digging for Answers

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Preliminary investigations into the disaster at West Virginia’s Sago Mine are turning up serious questions—among them whether the federal government will mount an aggressive drive for the truth about the January 2 disaster, in which 12 coal miners were killed.

A heated political clash at a congressional hearing on mine safety Thursday suggests that the leadership necessary for an all-out effort is unlikely to come from the U.S. Congress or the Bush administration.

At the hearing, held by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s subcommittee on workforce protections, California Democrat George Miller demanded to continue interrogating witnesses from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in a second round of questioning. But the subcommittee’s chairman, Georgia Republican Charlie Norwood, gaveled the session to an end over Miller’s loud objections. Miller later told reporters the hearing seemed designed to polish the image of the MSHA; a subcommittee spokesperson denied that charge and said Miller should know more hearings are forthcoming.

Investigations instigated at the state level may yet prove more effective. After the Sago accident, West Virginia governor Joe Manchin pushed new stiffer health and safety regulations through the state legislature and set up his own probe, led by Davitt McAteer, the former head of the Labor Department’s mine safety unit and a longtime coal industry reformer. Manchin promised McAteer subpoena power if he needs it.

But that inquiry has run into its own complications. On Wednesday the governor, at the request of the miners’ widows, was forced to delay a public hearing scheduled for mid-March until May 2. According to people with firsthand knowledge of the investigation, the change comes in deference to attorneys eyeing personal-damage suits on behalf of the Sago widows. If these private attorneys can get the governor’s investigation to lay out a record of what happened, they stand to have a much easier time in their own discovery procedures.

It is too early for West Virginia investigators to have reached any conclusions about the causes of either the explosion at the Sago dig or the failure of the rescue efforts, but knowledgeable sources in both West Virginia and Washington say investigators are beginning to gather previously unknown details. What they’re learning could raise serious questions about public and private commitments to mine safety.

Among the points of inquiry:

  • Did a mistake in the rescue efforts contribute to the miner’s deaths? The mine operators may have botched the rescue by blowing clean air into the mine, where it ran into smoke and noxious fumes from the explosion heading for the surface. If that turns out to be the case, the fresh air might have forced the foul cloud back into the tiny space where the miners were huddled.
  • Why couldn’t the miners communicate with people on the surface? Not long after the accident, the CEO of International Coal Group, which owns Sago, told USA Today that the miners had an escape route but weren’t aware of it. “Sadly, they could have come out and made it to safety,” said Ben Hatfield But, he continued, the only communication was by phone over a system connected by wires, and the lines were destroyed in the blast.

Yet as far back as 1998, government and the industry knew the technology existed to permit constant contact with miners underground. On November 25, 1998, a fire occurred at the Cyprus Plateau Mining Corporation’s Willow Creek Mine, near Price, Utah. Here is how the Labor’s Department MSHA website described what happened there: “The shift foreman ordered an evacuation using a unique system which operates like a pager that was worn by some miners. This ‘PED’ system (Personal Emergency Device), allowed for constant contact with the miners, even those working in remote areas. After the accident, a text message was sent to the miners–‘mine fire-evacuate’. The 45 miners were safely evacuated in about 45 minutes.”

Similar communications systems have been more widely used in mines in Australia and elsewhere. By one estimate, the total cost of providing PEDs for workers in a mine the size of Sago would have been about $100,000.

At Thursday’s hearing, Brooklyn Democrat Major Owens sarcastically asked an MSHA official, “Is there anyone in your department assigned to keep up with the world?”

Representatives with MSHA and the National Mining Association said they were still looking for a reliable system. After the 1988 Cyprus Plateau rescue, the government came to the conclusion that the PED technology was flawed, and did not mandate its adoption.

“I started working in mines in the 1970s and was doing that for 20 years of my life,” Dennis O’Dell, head of Occupational Health and Safety for the United Mine workers, said in an interview Thursday. “The telephone system they had then is the same exact system they use at most of the sites today.”

  • Why didn’t the rescuers move faster? Had they concluded everyone was dead without actually knowing so? That would account for the seeming lack of urgency in their operations. Sago miners with firsthand knowledge of the workings of the mine, have told investigators they went to the company command site to ask permission to enter the mine and find the lost men. Permission was denied.
  • Was the safety of the mine compromised by the pipeline running over the top? That pipeline carried highly volatile natural gas across the top of a mine that used large amounts of electricity for cutting coal. Its proximity raises the possibility, however slight, that it could have contributed to the disaster. And as the Charleston Gazette has reported, the mine is close to several bore holes of abandoned gas wells. Sometimes such bore holes contain substantial  amounts of methane, which can cause an explosion if struck by mining machinery. Many of these wells are mapped, but some are not, and the maps aren’t always accurate.
  • Why had that part of the mine been sealed in an unusual way? Traditionally, miners use concrete blocks to seal off sections, but the accident occurred in an area where weaker blocks of fly ash had been used instead. These blocks, approved by the state inspector last December, were blown out in the explosion. Why were they approved and did they contribute to the miners’ deaths?

Additional reporting: Michael Roston

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Bush, the Would-Be Cherry Picker

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Ever since Arizona senator John McCain came forward last year with his anti-torture bill, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have been plotting to get rid of it. The one sure way to accomplish this would be for Bush to gain all of what he believes to be his rightful powers and block enforcement of laws already passed by Congress. Critics argue Bush already has gone too far in this direction, but on Monday, with his demand for the line-item veto, Bush showed signs of embracing yet wider authority.

The story is complex. It goes like this: First, Cheney went to Capitol Hill, and tried twisting arms behind closed doors, arguing that should Congress come down against torture, then it would wreck the CIA’s operations. Next the White House staff tried negotiating with McCain to water down the bill. They failed. In the end the torture provision wound up tucked into the massive Pentagon spending bill, which passed. McCain, the straight shooter and a potential Republican presidential nominee, emerged victorious. Or so it seemed.

However, buried in the anti-torture legislation was language that in effect permitted the U.S. to continue the practice of shipping prisoners abroad and looking the other way while they are tortured—all on grounds we can’t dictate practices in the jails of foreign lands.

In a statement issued when he signed the legislation, Bush said he might not enforce the torture ban if the national interest were in danger.

Such a position could be bolstered by another part of the Defense appropriations bill, an amendment by Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan. They inserted language that, the government is set to argue, exempts Guantanamo prisoners from the torture.

On Monday, Bush took yet another step to hammer home his interpretation of what he considers his sweeping powers under the constitution. He came out strongly for passage of the line-item veto, a measure backed by Democrats (including John Kerry) as well as Republicans. Bush said he needed the new authority to help him single out and erase so-called earmarks, items stuck into legislation by members seeking to satisfy campaign contributors and other vested interests.

“Today, I’m sending Congress legislation that will meet [constitutional] standards and give me the authority to strip special spending and earmarks out of a bill, and then send them back to Congress for an up-or-down vote,” the president said.

Congress passed the line-item veto in 1996 and it was signed into law by President Clinton. But it was tossed out by the Supreme Court on grounds it was unconstitutional, as a violation of the separation of powers. Current supporters think they can get the Supreme Court to okay the line-item veto if Congress is given a chance to override the veto after the president exercises it.

While nobody wants to put it this way, the line-item veto would allow Bush to cherry pick legislation passed by Congress, getting rid of what he didn’t like. In the 6-3 decision to overturn the line-item veto in 1998, Justice Stevens warned Congress of the impact of this executive privilege on the separation of powers, noting, “If the Line Item Veto Act were valid, it would authorize the president to create a different law—one whose text was not voted on by either House of Congress or presented to the president for signature.”

And if Bush could cherry pick a bill, he’d love to start with a provision like the ban on torture.

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Dubai’s Port of No Return

WASHINGTON, D.C.—No matter what Bush and his supporters say, there is indisputable evidence of tight connections between the United Arab Emirates and leadership of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The country is the center of financial activity in the Persian Gulf, and has next to no laws controlling money laundering.Two of the hijackers came from the UAE and hijacker money was laundered through the UAE. The details are spelled out in documents in the government’s case against Moussaoui.

The ties with bin Laden and the Taliban reach far back into the ’90s. Prominent Persian Gulf officials, including members of the UAE royal family, and businessmen would fly to Kandahar on UAE and private jets for hunting expeditions, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2001. In addition to ranking UAE ministers, these parties included Saudi big wigs like Prince Turki, the former Saudi intelligence minister who now is ambassador to the U.S.

General Wayne Downing, Bush’s former national director for combating terrorism, was quoted on MSNBC in September, 2003 saying, “They would go out and see Osama, spend some time with him, talk with him, you know, live out in the tents, eat the simple food, engage in falconing, some other pursuits, ride horses. One noted visitor is Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktum, United Arab Emirates Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai.”

Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar joined the hunting parties, and there are suspicions Al Qaeda and Taliban personnel are smuggled out on returning flights.

Here is one report, sourced to the 9-11 Commission, appearing in Paul Thompson’s 9-11 timeline:

“February 1999: Bin Laden Missile Strike Called Off for Fear of Hitting Persian Gulf Royalty. Intelligence reports foresee the presence of bin Laden at a desert hunting camp in Afghanistan for about a week. Information on his presence appears reliable, so preparations are made to target his location with cruise missiles. However, intelligence also puts an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and members of the royal family from that country in the same location. Bin Laden is hunting with the Emirati royals, as he did with leaders from the UAE and Saudi Arabia on other occasions (see 1995-2001). Policy makers are concerned that a strike might kill a prince or other senior officials, so the strike never happens. A top UAE official at the time denies that high-level officials are there, but evidence subsequently confirms their presence. (9-11 Commission Report, 3/24/04 (B))”

It remains a key center of operations for Victor Bout, the notorious arms dealer, with ties to Taliban and Al Qaeda. There were also ties to the infamous BCCI.

As the Financial Times put it, in the UAE, “Western fraud investigators may find a link here or a connection there, with a person suspected of breaking western laws. But in Dubai, and its neighbor Sharjah, trails tend to vanish like wind-blown tracks in desert sands . . . Secrecy keeps everyone guessing—and speculating . . . ‘Medieval feudalism’ is how one senior western banker described Dubai’s style of government, ‘with a veneer of 21st century regulations.’ “

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Ports: All ‘Bout a Dealer Named Bout

WASHINGTON, D.C.—To hear the administration and its supporters talk, you’d think the workers in New York ports are carefully vetted by the Waterfront Commission, the ports themselves protected by the ever watchful Coast Guard, and routinely surveilled by U.S. Customs.

In truth, one administration after another has slashed the operational capability of the Coast Guard. Reagan even contemplated its privatization by a major defense firm. As for the Customs Service, it inspects as little as 5 percent of the cargo going through the New York ports.

This is a dream setup for any arms or dope dealer, and that’s exactly what the United Arab Emirates is all about. The ties between its top officials and royal family with the Taliban and Al Qaeda go back at least a decade.

The UAE is not only the center of financial dealings in the Persian Gulf, it is switching central for dope and arms dealing. The dope comes out of Afghanistan into the UAE where tax monies are collected and used to buy arms, which were sent back in for the Taliban. Some of this money is thought to have helped finance the 9-11 attacks. A money trail is set forth in the government’s filings in the Moussaoui case.

Long at the center of this operation is the mysterious Russian arms dealer, Victor Bout. The U.N. has accused Bout of providing arms to brutal regimes in Sierra Leone, Angola and to Charles Taylor in Liberia. The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C. research organization that operates a network of foreign correspondents, published a report on Bout in January 2002, citing Belgian intelligence documents from before the 9-11 attacks it had obtained. These documents reportedly show Bout earned $50 million in profits from selling weapons to the Taliban after they came to power in the late 1990s. The Center states, “Another European intelligence source independently verified the sales, and intelligence documents from an African country in which Bout operates—obtained by the Center—claim that Bout ran guns for the Taliban ‘on behalf of the Pakistan government.’ ” Peter Hain, the British Foreign Office Minister for Europe who has led the international effort to expose criminal networks behind the conflict diamonds and small arms trade in Africa, told the Center’s reporters, it was clear that Bout’s supply of weapons to the Taliban “and to its ally, Osama bin Laden” posed a real danger.

Der Spiegel, the German magazine, said in early January 2002 that Vadim Rabinovich, an Israeli citizen of Ukrainian origin, along with the former director of the Ukrainian secret service and his son sold a consignment of 150 to 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks to the Taliban. Spiegel said the deal was conducted through the Pakistani secret service and uncovered by the Russian foreign intelligence service, SVR, in Kabul, the Afghan capital. A Western intelligence source told the Public Integrity Center that Rabinovich’s weapons had been airlifted by one of Bout’s airfreight companies from his base in the UAE.

Rabinovich denied all this, and Bout said “For the record, I am not, and never have been, associated with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or any of their officials, officers, or related organizations,” Bout said, according to a copy of the statement released in the United States by one of his associates. “I am not, nor are any of my organizations, associated with arms traffickers and/or trafficking or the sale of arms of kind [sic] anywhere in the world. I am not, nor is any member of my family, associated with any military or intelligence organizations of any country.”

No one is suggesting Bout has any great love for the radical Muslim fundamentalists of Taliban ilk. He sold guns to the Russians fighting the CIA-backed Afghan mujahideen in their war with the Soviet Union and to the warlords opposing the Taliban. His planes are registered to various companies all operating out of the United Arab Emirates.

In fact, the United Arab Emirates have been viewed as hub for trade going and coming to Afghanistan, with drugs coming from Afghanistan on their way to the West, and weapons from Bout, going back. While transportation was via Bout’s different air cargo interests, it also involved the Afghan state airlines, called Ariana Airlines. The airline was controlled by Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda agents masquerading as Ariana employees flew out of Afghanistan, through Sharjah, one of the emirates, and on to points west.

During the late 1990s Bout’s center of operations was Ostend, Belgium, but when he came under pressure there, he left Belgium. The UAE office grew in importance.

Bout used various air cargo outfits. One of them was called Flying Dolphin, which in the early 2000s was owned by Sheikh Adbullah bin Zayed bin Saqr al Nayhan, a former UAE ambassador to the United States and member of the ruling family in Abu Dhabi. He was described by the United Nations as a “close business associate of Bout.” According to the December 20, 2000, U.N. report, Zayed’s company is registered in Liberia, but its operations office is in Dubai.

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South Dakota’s Genius Scheme to Outlaw Abortion

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The state government of South Dakota is poised to engage in a most bizarre battle to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The state legislature earlier this week passed a bill flat out banning abortion even in cases of rape and incest. The governor, Michael Rounds, while nominally neutral, is thought to be ready to sign it. Then, the legislation will be challenged in court. And it is here that the real political battle begins.

A campaign to push the legislation through the U.S. court system up to the Supreme Court where South Dakotans can lead the charge to overturn Roe v. Wade, will cost over $1 million. South Dakota doesn’t have that kind of money. So Rounds is studying ways of accepting into the state treasury private funds with which to wage the battle in the name of the South Dakota citizenry. In short,the well-heeled opponents of abortion are going to hire the public state government to fight their battle.

But while South Dakotan legislators have portrayed their state’s political attitude as singularly pro-life, many argue the citizenry, if given a chance to approve or disapprove the bill, would come out against a ban. Thelma Underburg, the Executive Director NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota, argues that defeat of a recent bill in the state legislature calling for a referendum, in fact, shows that “despite the right to life people saying it is a pro-life state, they know . . . if it ever came to a vote of the people, the majority think that a safe and legal abortion is a right.”

The concern about how South Dakota’s voters really feel about the effort to outlaw abortion is reflected in Governor Rounds’s publicly affirmed reservation about the legal costs that the state will rack up defending this bill in the federal courts against the enjoinment that Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota reportedly plans to seek. Never fear, say pro-life groups, an anonymous donor or donors are waiting in the wings to pony up $1 million for the abortion ban’s legal fees.

When asked if the state will accept such legal gratuity, the Governor’s Press Secretary Mark Johnston answered, “There certainly has been discussion about that cost, and there does need to be provisions for receiving that money into the treasury,” and the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader reported on Friday that a bill was being passed to set up such a special pro-life war chest in the state’s treasury. But when probed more specifically about the anonymous donation, Johnston checked himself, answering “I can’t think of whether [the Governor] has said that publicly, so I can’t answer that.”

It’s not entirely clear why an abortion foe would desire so strongly to keep their bankroll on the down low. One suggested head of steam behind the war chest was identified as Steve Kirby, the Founding Partner of the Sioux Falls-based investment firm Bluestem Capital, with a market value of $200 million. Kirby is a familiar player in South Dakota, serving as Lieutenant Governor from 1993 to 1995, and an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2002.

When interviewed by the Voice about the abortion ban, Kirby said, “There’s been apparently some degree of support for private funding out of a passion of the supporters for seeing that the bill remains the law of the land, and maybe funding a lawsuit.” But when asked if he was a donor, Kirby responded, “No comment on that one.”

Setting up such an unusual campaign warchest may give the appearance of impropriety. “If the legislative body thinks this is the right thing to challenge the Constitution of the U.S., they need to be willing to pay for the process,” argued Kate Looby, the South Dakota State Director for Planned Parenthood. By expecting outside donors to finance the legal challenge, she added, “There’s some element of buying government, and I really object to that.”

“Clearly the state can use taxpayer dollars,” Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they could devise a scheme to use these donated funds. What it does underscore, there is a belief that the taxpayers don’t want to pay for this, and consequently the only way to get something done that the taxpayers don’t want to pay for and that the politicians don’t want to pay for, the only way to do this is to find a private, anonymous person who will effectively purchase public policy that is not taxpayer or voter supported.”